SEO Keyword Selection – An In-Depth Guide
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When beginning a Search Engine Optimization campaign, there are a few basic
steps that every SEO knows to take before they begin. The first is always to build
a keyword list of which there are varying methods of doing so. The right
methods will aid you in creating and supporting a site-wide SEO strategy. The
wrong methods will run you in circles, wondering what went wrong.
It is the intent of this article to teach an effective method of keyword
selection that will enable you to land more keywords on the first page with
Getting Started: Know the Site
To create a great keyword list, you will need to know your website backwards
and forwards. You should know what the site features, and just as importantly,
you should know what it doesn’t’ feature.
The first step is to brainstorm a list of somewhat generic keywords. For
example, if you are a shoe store in Poughkeepsie, the temptation will arise to
try and rank number 1 for the term “shoes.” Well, that’s a start, but
ranking for the word “shoes” is probably aiming a little too high for a mom
and pop shop in Upstate New York, which is why it’s very important that you
know the site well enough to come up with a good list of pseudo-generic
“modifiers” for your keyword:
- Location (Poughkeepsie shoes, shoes upstate New York, shoes 12601)
- Price (cheap shoes, affordable shoes, quality shoes, comfortable shoes
- Types (running shoes, walking shoes, jogging shoes etc)
- Industry specific (anti-pronation shoes)
Lengthening the List
At this point you should have a good list of pseudo-generic keywords. The
next step is lengthening that list using your favorite Keyword tool (I will be
in this example).
Each time you plug a keyword into your tool of choice, it will return the
number of searches conducted for that term over a given period of time. It will
also suggest keywords from the tool’s database that are similar to the one you
The basic idea now is to go through the list returned by the keyword tool and
copy any and all similar terms as well as their corresponding search values,
which relate directly to the site you’re optimizing. Then, paste them to a
spreadsheet program so that they can be further edited later.
Once you have copied and pasted, just go through the list row by row. Delete
keywords that don’t have to do with the website you’re optimizing (which
is why it’s important to know what the site doesn’t feature) and repeat with
the next pseudo-generic keyword on your list. The idea is to identify as many
keywords as possible.
Narrowing the List
So you have a long keyword list; it’s time to narrow it down. I narrow my
lists by deciding if the potential gain for a keyword is relative to the
competition. In order to make that decision, I need know three variables:
- The number of searches on a particular keyword (already got those from
- The Amount of Competition (I’ll show you how to find your competition
in this section.)
- Will the keyword lead to conversions (this is up to you)
Below is a method for thoroughly determining competition for various
- Do a search for one of your keywords
- On the first SERP find the last listing with the keyword in the title tag
that is either a homepage of any kind or is a sub-page which is not
associated with a domain whose Pagerank is greater than 6. (This is the
page you will need to beat, if one does not exist, ranking will generally be
- Find out how many unique links with the keyword in the anchor text whose
linking page has a Pagerank of 1 or higher for the competitor (This is
how many quality backlinks you’ll need to acquire)
The aforementioned is a meticulous method for determining the competition for
all of your keywords, and unless you’re planning on building a tool that will
automate this process, I would suggest taking a more general approach by using
advanced search strings in the search engine of your choice.
The technique that I am about to demonstrate uses the following string: intitle:”Keyword
Phrase” inanchor:”Keyword Phrase”. This string will return the total
number of pages with, largely, the two greatest factors contributing to ranking
for a keyword:
- Having the keyword in the page title
- Having the keyword in anchor text pointing to the page
It’s a down and dirty method for assessing competition. This is how it’s
- Go to http://www.startlaunch.com/research/
- Copy your list of keywords into the box, click “submit”
- Click on each link
- Find and copy the number of pages that the search engine returns for this
query from the top right of the SERPs to a new column next to the
corresponding keyword in your keyword list spreadsheet (this is your
- In another new column, divide the number of competitors by the number of
monthly searches for each keyword.
- Sort the table from low to high (ascending) using that column.
What you have done is created a ratio of competitors to searches. When
determining competition, you generally want the keyword to be searched on more
times than there are competitors for that word. So the closer the ratio is to
0, the better the keyword.
These techniques will point out which terms have the most competition, but competition
alone should not dictate which words make the final list.
Remember when selecting keywords: words on a higher competitive level should
be placed on pages that will receive deep links in groups of 2 or 3 where all of
the keywords are very similar like:
- Running shoes, Shoes for running and buy running shoes online
- Web design in Atlanta, Atlanta Georgia web design, Atlanta web site design
This way, you won’t have to remove highly competitive, but potentially
lucrative terms from your list, provided that you make a concerted effort to
perform link-building for the pages on which those terms reside.
For smaller terms, in my opinion, the more the merrier. They can be given
their own pages or be mentioned on other highly trusted pages of your site.
That's it. You should have all the information you need to select a
strategically viable keyword list. Remember, keyword research is the
cornerstone of a successful SEO campaign. Knowing the competition for your
keywords will aid you in site layout, as well as focusing effort on SEO only
where it is necessary. Ultimately, it will make your optimization process more
efficient, allowing your sites to rank for more keywords with less work, which
is a goal that all SEOs strive to attain.